Monday, November 15, 2010


Strength: The Chakras

“Know thyself.” The essential meaning of the Strength card is in knowing who you are spiritually and physically. It implies a lot more than just mastery of the mind and the body. A lot of people go to a yoga class for health reasons: to fine tune spiritual consciousness and improve bodily functions. The Strength card in “Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness,” consists of seven colorful chakras from the yoga tradition. What is a chakra? These are whirling vortexes of subtle energy located within the body, related to the major nerve centers of the spine. The term “Chakra” originated in Hindu literature—the “Upanishads,” many centuries ago. Anodea Judith, in her book, “Wheels of Life,” (Llewellyn Publications, 1988) says: “At the inner core of each one of us spin seven wheel-like energy centers called Chakras…Chakras are centers of activity for the reception, assimilation and transmission of life energies.” It seems we can also find spiritual strength in our bodies through activating these electrical energy forces.

Yogic practitioners believe we can start these centers in motion through meditation and yoga exercises. The seven Chakras depicted here are in a rainbow color arrangement, starting at the bottom: 1.) Muladhara – (red) root, base of the spine, large intestine, survival mode; 2.) Svadisthana – (orange) abdomen, reproductive organs, womb; 3.) Manipura – (yellow) solar plexus, digestive system; 4.) Anahata – (green) heart, lungs, arms; 5.) Visuddha – (blue) throat, neck, shoulders; 6.) Ajna – (indigo) eyes, eyebrows, face; 7.) Sahasrara – (violet) top of head, cerebral cortex.

The usual representation of the Strength card in older decks, such as the Waite deck, is a woman holding a red lion. Who is she and what does the lion represent? There are several possible answers. The Lion is a symbol for the sun, Leo, power, strength, and animal nature. “Cyrene” of Greek myth, was a form of the ancient Mother Goddess. She tamed lions and is depicted accompanied by lions. Barbara Walker discusses her importance in “The Secrets of the Tarot” (Harper & Row, 1984). In Alchemy, sulphur is referred to as a red lion and is part of the alchemical and metaphysical process of transmutation. The purpose is to improve human nature.

Giotto, in the allegorical fresco, “Fortitude,” painted a woman with a lion skin tied on her shoulders and a lion on her shield. Another of Giotto’s paintings, “Injustice,” may illustrate a story from the New Testament Apocrypha about St. Paul and St. Thecla, which might have some bearing on why “Justice” and “Strength” are sometimes switched in the 8th and 11th positions in Tarot. St. Thecla was a Christian martyr thrown into a lions den for being a disciple of Paul, but there she was protected by a lioness. The women of the city protested her abuse and called this unjust punishment (an injustice). At the bottom of Giotto’s fresco, “Injustice,” a nude woman (possibly St. Thecla, as her story continues) is about to be ravished by her captors, but she is swallowed up by a cave in a rock out of their reach. (See “Signs and Symbols in Christian Art,” George Ferguson (Oxford Univ. Press, 1966) In Greek myth, Cybelle, another form of Cyrene, was the goddess of caves. Hercules, in Greek myth, defeated the Nemean lion as the first test of his “Twelve Labors.” Samson killed a lion with his bare hands (Judges 14:5). Daniel was unharmed in the lion’s den. This card stands for courage in overcoming adversity, based on gaining knowledge of oneself and one’s capabilities.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Chariot

The Chariot: Chariots of Fire

Be ready to stretch your imagination in this discussion of “The Chariot” card of Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness. Here you can fantasize about all the heroes/heroines and superstars in your life as we explore a realm that resembles science fiction. In examining the meaning of Chariot cards in older Tarot decks, we encounter a mythology where stories of heroes and the gods was the stuff of poets. The Grecian gods in ancient myths all had chariots that flew in the sky: a clue to the belief in the powers of the gods. So to bring The Chariot card up to date, I have painted it in the context of a modern myth—UFO’s—those mysterious round disks we have seen going by in the night sky. So far these “unidentified flying objects” have defied explanation.

After much research, I have concluded it’s best to not assume anything about what UFO’s may be. Since the 1940’s, we have wondered if they are spacecraft piloted by weird creatures from some other world. Much has been written about what UFO’s might be. Maybe they are ancient “Vimanas” described in the Indian epic, “Mahabharata” Or are they vehicles that carry souls to an afterlife? Or are they just gas blasts from earth as it moves through space—like motorcycle back-fires. Who really knows?

In older decks, such as the Waite deck, a victorious hero is parading in a chariot drawn black and white sphinxes (controlling negative and positive forces). In bas reliefs from the ancient Near East, we see Egyptian and Assyrian warriors riding in military chariots pulled by horses. The meaning of The Chariot card is usually about the victor riding in a triumphal parade celebrating a mission accomplished—a job well done—cheers, applause! But now our streets and highways are crammed full of engine driven metal “chariots” transporting ordinary people everywhere, so we have to look some place else to find those superheroes in our lives—ahah!—UFO’s!

Carl Jung, in the last years of his life, wrote about UFO’s in “Flying Saucers” (Harcourt & Brace World, 1959). He saw them as symbols of a modern myth concerning humanity’s desire for unity and wholeness. He said, “The present world situation is calculated never before to arise expectation of a redeeming supernatural event.” He goes on to say, “The psychological experience that is associated with the UFO consists of the vision of the ‘rotundum,’ the symbol of wholeness and the archetype that expresses itself in mandala form.” So are the people who see UFO’s having mass hallucinations? Or is this something more than a technological engineering mythology? Jung also wrote that the 12th century Abbess, Hildegard of Bingen, in her “Fourth Vision,” painted 30 fiery red circles flowing into the body of a child in a woman’s womb. Hildegard envisioned the souls of mankind as fireballs! So is that what we are seeing—flying souls—something we only see in a Star Trek episode?

Perhaps they are “Merkabahs" (Merkava) a Hebrew word meaning “chariot;” part of the mysticism of the Kabbalah. This is a secret process of meditation combining breathing, verbalization and visualization techniques. The Merkabah is a spiritual transport to a higher dimension. Aryeh Kaplan in “Meditation and Kabbalah” (Samuel Weiser, 1982) writes that the purpose is to attain: “…the highest mystical experiences.” Astral projection might be a way to describe this experience. This is plenty of food for thought; nevertheless, The Chariot card symbolizes victory in passing the tests and trials of living this life and, in finding ways to manifest the utmost of one’s potential.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Lovers

The Lovers: Merging or Separating

Let’s start where all relationships begin: “I love you” or “I hate you.” I was sitting at my desk at work one day and suddenly a little boy, about three years old that I had never seen before, appeared in the doorway. I looked at him and he looked at me and he said, “I don’t like you.” I work in a home office and some people were guests upstairs that I didn’t know about. (There was a lot of tittering in the background from another worker.) Yes, that’s how fast it happens. It was the beginning of an estranged relationship.

Why is “The Lovers” card in Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness painted as two overlapping circles? It’s here we take another step into Sacred Geometry. The one is dividing into two—or—is it two merging into one? For some lovers, to merge is an attempt to return to an original sense of spiritual oneness. On the other hand, for others, it’s something to escape from. Is the glass half empty or is the glass half full?

In the biblical story of creation, Adam and Eve (as the first couple) got into trouble right away. What went wrong? In “The Lovers” card of older Tarot decks such as “The Builders of the Adytum,” or the Waite, Colman Smith deck, Adam and Eve, archetypal figures from Genesis, are depicted standing in front of 2 trees. It’s explained that behind Eve is the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil,” and behind Adam is the “Tree of Life.” In the story, because they disobeyed and ate of the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil,” they experienced duality and the separation of opposites. Just try discussing this story for an invigorating evening sometime (Eve-ning, pun intended). Did Eve recognize that evil, in the form of a talking serpent, was trying to entice her, but then she went ahead and fell for it? Was Adam just being naive and opportunistic for falling for it too? (Is this the meaning of the metaphor of “The Fall”?)

Michael Schneider says in his book, “Beginners Guide to Constructing the Universe” (HarperCollins 1995): “Polarized thinking encourages our sense of separation and deflects our vision from the world’s—and our own—inherent unity.” I ask, how do we function in a state of togetherness? We connect with each other through mutual agreement, negotiation, cooperation and compromise. Most everyone wants to have an intimate relationship. Usually we are relating to another person or group of persons in some fashion. Gail Fairfield says in her book “Choice Centered Relating and the Tarot,” (Samuel Weiser, 2000) “Once a commitment has been made and is well defined, the dance of intimacy (or closeness) and autonomy (or separateness) begins.”

The two interlocking circles look like a division but, can also be a reflection. In a metaphysical context, it could mean a spiritual reflection of the infinite One. The circle repeats itself. A new shape is formed—the “Vesica Piscis,”—which is an oval mandorla with pointed ends. This has long been acknowledged as a female symbol of the womb where living beings are formed in a mysterious process of exponential cellular growth.

In Sacred Geometry, the intersecting circles represent the beginning of two-ness. While drawing the “Vesica Piscis” we begin a process of thinking about how things come into being. To experience this for yourself, start with a pencil point on paper and place a compass on that while contemplating cosmic concepts such as the One Being. Next, draw the circumference of the circle—and think of the origin of the universe, the planets, stars, and especially your own beginning. Cell division has begun. 1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, 4 becomes 8, and so on. This isn’t a “chicken or the egg” situation. “The Lovers” represent the profound secrets behind the beginning and multiplication of life.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Hierophant

The Hierophant: The Golden Rectangle and Nature’s Mysteries

When analyzing the meaning of The Hierophant we enter the realm of Nature’s complex mysteries. In Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness, The Hierophant reminds us to become aware of the creative impulsion that activates the blueprints behind all life forms. Therefore, we think of cellular organization and processes of growth. Now we are impelled to see the wonders of the underlying structure of plants, land animals, and sea creatures—from simple amoebas to intricate coral reefs. In this context, The Hierophant is an icon for a teacher of Nature’s holistic organizing principles. We are prompted to become keenly aware of, and grateful for, our earthly environment. Michael Schneider in his book, A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe, asserts that “…every natural pattern of growth or movement conforms inevitably to one or more simple geometric types.” At this point, I like to look at Bruce Rawles website, Sacred Geometry Design Sourcebook for a complete guide to Sacred Geometry.

Historically, in ancient Greece, The Hierophant was High Priest for Demeter (Ceres) Goddess of agriculture, whose presence was celebrated by an agrarian culture in Eleusinian shrines. She was worshipped by the farming community as Mother Nature: the cyclic source for seed-planting (grains and vegetables) then sprouting, flowering, and producing fruit, which in turn, bear seeds for the return to earth. And we know plants continue to reproduce themselves from their seeds over and over again. And by the way, many flowers and fruits manifest 5 petals or seeds in arrangements of five. Why? What does that mean? What are Nature’s rules for biological development?

According to British biologist Rupert Sheldrake in his book, The Rebirth of Nature, he says, “The cosmos is like a growing organism, forming new structures within itself as it develops…it tells us that everything is related.” He discusses the proposition that what was once thought of as Nature’s laws, are really forms of memory: this he refers to as “morphic resonance,” a state that involves holistic organizing principles bound together in a state of “oneness.” The Hierophant is here in the Tarot to remind us to take notice of that.

We are taken back by the metaphor of The Hierophant to celebrate the powerful activity of Nature’s cosmic creative processes. We are urged to pay attention to the stages of growth and change as they actually happen. For instance, such wonders of self-organization can be seen in a chambered nautilus shell where each chamber, constructed by the sea creature inside, is approximately 1.618… times larger than the next chamber. And we can certainly see the outcome of self-replication demonstrated by all those cute little rabbits multiplying themselves again and again. Then there is the riddle of specification: Why does an elephant always produce another elephant, and not a horse or a chicken? Yet, the possibility of a mutation makes evolutionary change possible. We see the attributes of self-realization in humans and primates since they are able to examine themselves in a mirror. (On the other hand, my cat won’t even look at himself.) What other animals can also recognize themselves?

The painting of The Hierophant in Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness is based on a Golden Mean Spiral—a symbol of unending evolution—painted within a Golden Rectangle made up of little squares. The equiangular spiral is revealed as arcs drawn through a series of “whirling squares.” These qualities represent the “Golden Section” or the Golden Mean described by Euclid in the 47th Proposition called “the measure of gold.” To the Greeks in ancient times, mathematics and geometry was a way to interpret the laws of Nature. Such knowledge was considered sacred and was a highly guarded secret.

In the 17th century, after Descartes discovered it, the architect Jacques Bernoulli, defined the properties of the “Golden Mean Spiral” or equiangular spiral as it is called. The spiral unfolds because of a principle of growth and it can grow larger exponentially, becoming larger and larger, ad infinitum. The spiral growth of many life forms approximates the ratio of 1:1.618… called the Phi ratio. It is a series of numbers that may continue on forever, although the creature or plant experiences a limited form of growth. For instance, in counting the rows of seeds in the head of a sunflower, we sometimes see 89 long rows and 55 short rows. When 89 is divided by 55, believe it or not, the answer is a ratio of 1:1.618… a numeral of infinity. This leads us to a study of the “Fibonacci series:” 1+1=2; 2+3=5; 3+5=8; 5+8=13, and so on, yielding the same Phi ratio. These are just some of the lessons The Hierophant of Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness has in store for us. Perhaps this will start you on your way in discovering the underlying secrets of Nature.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Emperor

The Emperor and numeral 4

Who or what do we think of as The Emperor in Tarot? While The Empress is the Formator, The Emperor is the Motivator. In what way? Again, in referring to the past, in early civilizations there were emperors that we retain in memory and still talk about. Some are known for being courageous leaders setting up well-ordered societies, with laws, rules, and other civilizing edicts. History records the Roman Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius, as having been effective leaders, while some others were terrible despots doing nothing but exploiting their subjects. This included several demagogues, such as Nero and Caligula. Think of the hubris and arrogance of Napoleon who crowned himself emperor. In the painting by Jacques-Louis David in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, we see Napoleon crowning his wife Josephine after he had crowned himself. There is a huge responsibility in governing a vast empire. So we know emperors and empires have come and gone over the centuries in cycles of construction, war and destruction.

Now we want to know what part The Emperor has in the Tarot and why, in the number 4 position? In Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness, The Emperor has cosmological meaning. This card not only represents the power of leadership, authority, and stability in governance, but in a spiritual context, The Emperor symbolizes conscious awareness of a cosmic selfhood. This is not a depiction of a warlike soldier, but a description of an active energetic organizer who expresses fatherly qualities of love and support for others, revealing a “kinder, gentler” side. The meaning of this card indicates a spiritual stabilizing factor for the on-going development of a whole society.

In the metaphysical realm, a symbol for The Emperor is the tetraktys—an isosceles triangle with 10 points arranged in 4 layers. These are the first 10 numerals, 1 to 10, and the numbers 1,2,3,4 add up to 10. In older decks, The Emperor is shown seated on a cube, which can be drawn on 6 points of the tetraktys. The cube symbolizes an earthly life where one’s purpose is to master the 4 elements: Fire, Water, Air and Earth. In an article by Robert Apatow on “The Tetraktys” (Parabola, Fall, 1999) he shows that the tetraktys was first created by Pythagoras and writes that, “Pythagoras’ vision of the mind and cosmos can be explored in the tetraktys.”

To illustrate this, I have made a small painting of the tetraktys with lively whirling energy points to emphasize the importance of this diagram in understanding the placement of The Emperor as number 4 in the Tarot. Pythagoras started a school where the 4 studies of arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy correspond to the 4 layers of the tetraktys. These 4 studies were considered crucial in setting up early societies and were even revived again during the Renaissance. A conscientious emperor would need scholars to study and teach these subjects in order to establish a well-rounded society.

In a reading, The Emperor represents culturing the ability to know yourself and to understand your limitations, yet seeing the whole picture. It’s a time to take charge of your life and manifest leadership and know-how in your daily activities. When you find your power you won’t become a victim of circumstances instead, you will be looked up to as a leader and guide.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Empress

The Empress: going back even farther in time

Of the old adage, “There’s nothing sacred any more,” we ask, “What was sacred?” In a long past era, it was the magic of viewing the earth as sacred, with sacred places, sacred waters, stones, and sacred forests. The earth itself was the immanent Mother Goddess—Mother Earth, Gaia. The Empress card in early decks, emphasize her fecundity, illustrated by abundant wheat crops, fruits, and nurturing waterfalls.

In southern England near Stonehenge, a great Earth Mother Neolithic monument covers 33 miles of the landscape. Remnants of her form are still embedded in the pastures and farms of the countryside around Avebury. Aerial photography reveals the remaining outline of a giant figure sculpted by hills, valleys, mounds, and stone circles. According to Michael Dames, author of The Avebury Cycle (Thames & Hudson, 1977) this whole area was probably used for religious festivals honoring the Earth Mother as far back as 2,500 B.C. “Moveable feasts” were synchronized with the changes of the seasons, moving from festivals at T’an Hill, to moon watching at Silbury Hill, to revelry and dancing at the Avebury Henge and stone avenues, ending with solemn rituals in burial chambers hidden in the West Kennet Long Barrow.

You might ask, “How does The Empress card of Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness relate to this?” In older cards, The High Priestess sits at the doorway (portal) to the temple of the worship of the gods. In contrast to that, The Empress is depicted sitting outdoors where her immanence is portrayed in the functions of Nature. Her fertile essence is represented by a pregnant woman. I like to think The Empress card symbolizes the primordial Mother, feminine principle—the Formator. When she merges with the primordial Father, masculine principle—the motivator (The Emperor), new life forms materialize in the energy of creation from the womb of the Universe.

The Empress card in Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness symbolizes the laws of Nature where conception, fertility, the egg, zygote, and little beings are formed. In the center, we look through a pentagonal portal to the formation of the galaxies. At the bottom of the card is a sunflower head representing the order and plan (the blueprint) seen in all sorts of plants, flowers, and seashells. In some sunflowers, the number of 55 spirals of seeds opposite 89 spirals (spira mirabilis) yields the Golden Mean and Fibonacci ratio of 1:1.618 Even though not always perfect, this number is often seen in Nature’s forms.

Today there is a new outdoor Empress. The artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) bought an old quarry in Tuscany, Italy and over 20 years, constructed huge concrete sculptures of the 22 Tarot Major Arcana. The nurturing, mother qualities of her Empress figure are obvious. Niki lived inside her while building the figures. There is a kitchen in one breast and a bedroom in the other. The Empress in a reading means abundant creativity and reproduction. We are giving birth to new ideas and forms and exploring resourceful possibilities. We have the desire to find and nurture our emerging cosmic Selfhood. We manifest her motherly qualities in caring for the needs of others, children, and the elderly. As stewards of the earth, we exemplify her protective care in preserving the land, its flora and fauna; in saving the primeval forests, animal habitats, and in safeguarding clean water.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The High Priestess

THE HIGH PRIESTESS: going back in time

In considering the role of the High Priestess in Tarot—let’s go back to basics—back in time to an age when a High Priestess performed sacred rituals in the temples of early religions. Her most popular appearance today is based on what scholars have uncovered in papyri and tomb painting of the ancient Egyptian New Kingdom. We can see her on the walls of the tomb of Nefretari at Thebes. And we know she performed rituals in Greek and Roman temples such as Athena’s temple in Athens. Myths telling her story written in cuneiform have been found in even earlier cultures from Uruk, Mesopotamia (Iraq). Throughout history there has always been a temple or shrine of some sort for the worship of gods and goddesses, God, or other invisible supernatural beings, and there were priests and priestesses acting as intercessors between the people and the gods.

Egyptian priestesses led rituals of chanting, singing and dancing in reverence of the local god, where they presented libations, food and ritual objects. In most early cultures, these forms of religious practices existed from ancient Egypt to the Asian continent. Magical incantations and rituals invoked the gods’ best intentions toward the people. The role of a priestess was to beseech the gods for fertile land, abundant crops, healings, and banishment of evil beings. At Thebes, the High Priestess of Amun performed sacred rites for the goddess Hathor. After the 23rd Dynasty, her rituals were centered on reverence for Isis. Here, she was considered a celibate, “the god’s wife” of Amun.

In Asian folk religions, such as Korea, a female Shaman dressed in colorful clothing, performed elaborate rituals to dispel evil forces and bring peaceful blessings upon the kingdom from heavenly gods. While interacting with the common people, the Shamaness interpreted dreams, cast fortunes, and provided worshipful seekers with magical spells and charms.

So what about the Tarot? Why is the High Priestess there? In Sylvia Brinton Perera’s book “Descent to the Goddess” (Inner City Books, 1981), she discusses the myth of the ancient Sumerian goddess Inanna and her Priestess Ninshuber, who assisted Inanna in her descent to the underworld. Ninshuber waited at the gates to the underworld while Inanna went to meet her sister Ereshkigal (Queen of the underworld, death). However when she arrived she was killed and hung on a hook. Later Ninshuber sees that she is rescued and resuscitated. Ms. Perera relates this story to the process that occurs in psychotherapy or self-analysis. The role of High Priestess in Tarot is similar. She acts as a guide in the process of initiation into the mysteries of life as one proceeds through the other Tarot cards. She symbolizes someone who assists in dealing with both the positive and negative aspects of an inner life, comparable to a therapist.

In contemplating the High Priestess card, there are times when we may be prompted to think about dealing with our “dark side.” By pointing the way to an inner universal spiritual language of feeling and intuition, she sends us a “wake-up call” through the symbols and metaphors that are continued in the rest of the cards. A place is stirred in our hearts where we can tap into buried images and memories associated with the complexities of our lives. When the High Priestess card comes up in a reading, it is an invitation to go through the portal of one’s inner recesses into a realm of other-worldly associations and dream-like images. Based on what we learn there, we can build on these perceptions and recreate ourselves through ritual, art, music, writing and dancing—a form of remembering that helps us find meaning in our lives.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Magican and Moses

The Magician:

And then there was Moses…

According to Corinne Heline, author of The Bible and Tarot, (Devorss, 1969) we can associate the symbolism of certain biblical characters, such as Moses, with the Tarot Major Arcana. Although she discusses the symbolic essence of Moses in The Chariot card, I find his story also fits the role of mage in The Magician card. For instance, in the search for meaning in the stories of Moses’ miracles, we see that “Rods” (Wands) were used to channel or translate the supernatural powers of the Lord. What appeared to be magic acts were performed by Moses and his brother, Aaron, as they engaged in a deadly contest with the Egyptian Pharaoh’s magicians.

But first, let’s look at the story of “The Burning Bush” as this is where the Lord told Moses to go back to Egypt to convince the Pharaoh to “Let my people go.” (Ex.3) On Mt. Horeb, Moses experienced miraculous events that, to adherents of Tarot, are significant symbols of steps to take on one’s spiritual path. He had to deal with his feelings of inadequacy to do what was asked of him, and so he said he needed a “sign.” God told him to cast his “rod” to the ground. Immediately it turned into a snake and he ran from it. But when he mustered the courage to take the snake by the tail, it became a rod again (overcoming evil). When he put his hand in his shirt and took it out, it was leprous, but when he put it back, the leprosy was gone (healing). Then when he dipped his hand in river water and poured it on the dry ground, it became blood (living waters of life).

In the efforts of Moses and Aaron to liberate the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, they were to “stretch out your rod” (under the Lord’s commands) to convince the Pharaoh to release the Israelites. (Ex.7–12) As the story goes, the power of God was translated through their “Rods” in setting off ten plagues that profoundly affected the lives of the Egyptians. Moses turned his rod into a snake when Pharaoh asked him for a miracle, so the Pharaoh demanded to see more. Hmmpf, his magicians could do that and they did! So next, Pharaoh got more than he bargained for—ten deadly plagues.

Under Moses’ direction, Aaron used his rod to initiate the first three plagues. Moses then used his rod to bring on the rest of the plagues. I view these as symbolic lessons in the context of the human condition such as: dealing with mortality and immortality (Nile, blood, dead fish); uncleanness (frogs); illusions (gnats); reality and unreality (diseased cattle, boils); ignorance versus wisdom (hail, locusts); the dark side versus enlightenment (3 days of darkness); and hopes for the future dashed (firstborn died). Finally, the Pharaoh couldn’t take any more and said, “Take your flocks and herds…and BE GONE; and bless me” (Ex. 12:32).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Magician as Shaman

When considering the role of The Magician in the Tarot, what’s the first thing we think of? Right away we think about The Magician’s tools: paintings of enigmatic art on cards representing the four suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles or Coins. What magical association and function do we assign to these symbolic accoutrements? The Wands indicate the element Fire, symbolizing growth, power, force, drive, action, and the creative impulsion to life. In contemplating Cup cards, we think about Water, implying containers, liquids, food, nourishment, and cleansing. In general readings, Cups can also indicate our watery emotions, the feelings of love, hate, sadness, and joy. Swords represent the transcendent qualities of Air: thought processes, dealing with duality and our ability to separate truth from lies. Certain Sword cards in a reading can help us come face to face with ourselves in dealing with enemies, discrimination and warfare. In the Pentacles or Coins—Earth—we see Nature’s laws as unforeseen forces taking concrete expression in our daily experiences of life on earth. These cards urge us to consider earth’s flora and fauna, our dealings with people, and our relationship to the landscape. Here, we endeavor to conduct our life’s work, which can take many forms as in labor, commerce, business, barter and trade.

I like to think of these qualities as four conditions of action we express in trying to make our lives better. By invoking the divine or higher powers in ourselves we work on influencing our environment. In ancient times, people invoked supernatural powers from an invisible realm. When folks were overwhelmed by events they couldn’t control such as storms, floods, fires, crop failure, drought, wars, death and destruction, they turned to familiar and comforting powers—the spirits of the land.

In the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, magic was centered on the practice of evoking creative energies of Nature. Veneration of Mother Earth was immanent in their daily lives. Amulets and talisman-like images have been found by the thousands in archeological digs in Eastern Europe and thoroughly explored by Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994) professor of European Archeology at UCLA, in her book, The Language of the Goddess, HarperCollins, 1989.

We can get an even better sense of the magical practices of those ancient times by looking at the Hopi Kachina cults of the US Southwest, where some rituals and dances are still practiced today. Painted and decorated Kachina doll effigies are made representing the spirits of rain, clouds, thunder, and snow. They make spirit-images of corn, squash, animals, and awful ogres, in the hope of seeking protection and promoting growth of crops. Gimbutas argues that the marked sculpted figures of the European Goddess were magical signs imploring the creative energies of nature signifying conception, birth, death, and regeneration of both human and animal forms. These were hand-hewn clay or rock symbols of female and male body parts carved with symbols of water, rain, eggs, snakes, triangles, chevrons, whorls and concentric circles. Shamans carried out rituals using these figures. This brings us back to some of the same similar characteristics we see in the talisman cards of the Tarot Magician’s tools, even though we use them in more modern, mass-produced forms. It seems some of us still want a little magic in our lives.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Celebrating The Fool

     In the early Roman festival of Saturnalia, The Fool played the role of a mock king who presided over a merry festival of pranksters. He was the "Lord of Misrule"performing in a wild masquerade party. Does this sound like Mardi Gras? All the rules of order and morality were put aside at that time. Eventually the dark side of all that burlesque frivolity may have ended in a crescendo with the sacrifce of the king. These festivals evolved into various European celebrations such as "The Twelfth Night" (Jan.6th), the parades and festivities of Carnival, and capers of Shrove-Tuesday. (There is more to read about Saturnalia in James Frazer's book "The Golden Bough" (MacMillan, 1922) pp. 675-679.)
     In the time of the pagan gods, Saturn was the Roman god of sowing and husbandry (the Father-time of New Year's Eve). The person who played The Fool at these celebrations was known by various names such as the "Lord of Misrule," or the mediaeval "Bishop of Fools" and "King of the Bean." Ah, is that where the idea for the movies and TV show of "Mr. Bean" originated?  Some mediaeval feasts included baking a cake with a bean inside and the person who found the bean became "King of the Bean" who led the parade of merry chaos. Brian Williams (1958-2002) created the wonderful "Ship of Fools Tarot" (published by Llewelyn, 2002) based on the writing and art of Sebastian Brant's "Das Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools) "emphasizing humanity's capacity for foolishness." Williams compares the images of the "Ship of Fools" to the classic decks of Marseilles and Rider-Waite-Smith in his drawing facsimiles of the art in Brant's book.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Fool and Giotto's "Folly"

     In the 14th century, Renaissance artists were painting religious scenes influenced by the dogma of the church. It seems that vestiges of their visual images began to appear in early Tarot decks, at least in underlying meaning if not in exact replication. The power of the intended meaning may be hidden in the early Tarot Major Arcana cards such as the Visconti-Sforza deck of the 1400's. In turn, these original paintings may have been the source for later illustrations in early decks, including the Rider-Waite deck of 1910, by A.E. Waite, and illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith.
     Italian artist, Giotto ((1267-1337) painted monochromatic frescoes of "The Seven Virtues and The Seven Vices" along the lower walls of the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy, which are still there today. The Fool is seen here described as "Folly."  It's apparent some of Giotto's figures may include thinly disguised stories of the martyrdom of the saints. Fools, foolishness and folly are mentioned many times in various biblical verses, making depicting this kind of character an easy target for humorous portrayal. It is quite likely that Giotto's paintings of the Seven Virtues and Vices, and paintings like these by other artists of the period, were the basis for the designs of early Tarot cards. .
     Giotto's fool, "stultitia" has feathers attached to his head (making fun of a crown) and he has ragged clothes with bells tied around his waist. He may be wearing a peacock's tail and there appears to be a kind of forked stick placed around his mouth, which may represent a type of divination, or of speaking with a forked tongue.